Charles Brown: Hard Times & Cool Blues (CD)
"EVERYBODY EXPECT AFTER YOU MAKE A BLUES HIT THEY FIGURE YOU SING THE BLUES. WELL, I WAS MORE OF A BLUE BALLAD SINGER, NOT A BLUES SINGER, BECAUSE MY NUMBERS ARE MORE OF STORY BALLAD NUMBERS. "DRIFTING BLUES" IS BLUES, BUT IT WAS KIND OF A BALLAD BLUES, IT WAS A LITTLE DIFFERENT FROM THESE HARD BLUES LIKE THEY REALLY SING. THAT'S WHY I SAY I DON'T KNOW WHAT KIND OF CLASS MY TYPE OF SINGING IS, 'CAUSE NAT COLE WAS SINGING MOSTLY POPULAR THINGS, BUT WE WERE ALL IN THAT SAME VEIN. KING COLE, I LOVED HIS WORK BUT I NEVER WENT TO SEE HOW HE PERFORMED UNTIL I GOT SET IN MY WAY BECAUSE I DID'NT WANT TO BE PATTERNED AFTER NOBODY.' The year is 1986. A wonderful, new LP is released on a tiny stateside specialist label named Blue Side. "But the record is by Charles Brown," mutter the usually outspoken blues "mafia". "It can't really be that good, can it?" But the LP is that good. So good, in fact, that in the subsequent three years it sees issue also on Demon in England and even the US "hard contemporary blues" label, Alligator. Why are the blues critics so surprised? Has Charles Brown discovered a radical new style for his most recent studio work? No, Charles is playing and singing in the same style...even down to the type of material and the tenor sax-guitar-bass drums backing musicians.The difference is that, after years and years of bypassing Charles' music in favour of Chicago Blues, blues fans were made to sit up and listen.
Born September 13, 1922, in Texas City, a small town not far from Houston, Charles' family, although very musical, were against their son becoming a musician. He therefore embarked in a successful academic course in chemistry and mathematics, eventually graduating to become a teacher and a chemist before his musical heritage finally persuaded him to make a living sitting on a piano stool. He packed his bags and headed down that sunny road to Los Angeles, California, and before long was playing piano with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers. It was the summer of 1944 and the west coast was drowning in servicemen who were anxious to spend their war pay. Every other building housed a nightclub or ribjoint and every joint had its resident trio. The Three Blazers soon rose head and shoulders above the competition and made a worthy, though inauspicious, recording debut for the local Atlas label with Charles singing on one side and Frankie Laine (yes, that Frankie Laine) doing a Charles Brown impersonation on the other. "After we made the first record with Frankie Laine, Johnny Moore was the type of guy who wanted to always see that his trio always got over, so he wanted to make some records of the trio. well, we were singing this "DRIFTING BLUES"and all the people were wild over "DRIFTING BLUES" during the war, but we had never made a recording of it.
We had a little job at the Copa Club, and clubs were going very late during the war, and about 2:45 a knock was on that door and we looked through the door and a guy had a satchel, it was Sammy Goldberg and Eddie Mesner, and Sammy said, "I want you to hear this "DRIFTING BLUES" that Johnny Moore's playing and Charles Brown's singing." He told us to play it and then asked us to sign a contract to make it for $800. So John said, "Is that all you got?" He said, "Yeah, if the record does good I'll give you more. I'll give you a piece of the action in the company." It was the biggest mistake we ever made in our I ives." Eddie Mesner released "DRIFTING BLUES" on his fledgling Philo label, and on the copious proceeds resulting from the record's success in 1946, managed to found one of the most successful independant labels of the 40s and 50s — Aladdin Records.
After only a couple of sessions for Philo/Aladdin, The Three Blazers moved on to make dozens of records for other L.A. independents like Modern, Exclusive and Swing Time, but in 1948 internal wranglings between the trio members came to a head and both Charles and bassist Eddie Williams left to form their own trios while Johnny continued to lead his Three Blazers. Strangely, in view of Charles' past dealings with Eddie Mesner, he signed another contract with Aladdin in November 1948 and remained with the company for the next eight years, laying down almost a hundred known masters. Many of these became big hits on the Billboard R&B charts; starting with "IT'S NOTHING" (No. 13 in 1949), his run of Aladdin successes included "TROUBLE BLUES" (No. 1 1949), "HOMESICK BLUES" (No. 5 1949), "MY BABY'S GONE (No. 6 1950), "BLACK NIGHT" (No. 1 1951), "SEVEN LONG DAYS" (No. 2 1951), "HARD TIMES" (No. 7 1952), "I'LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU" was also a big hit (No. 7 1951), but the version on this CD, like the cut Of "MERRY CHRISTMAS BABY" (Exclusive 63X — No. 8 1948), is a remake from a 1956 New Orleans sesion with Charles being supported by the cream of the Crescent City's musicians. During the late 50s and early 60s with the advent of rock 'n' roll and soul music, Charles' career quietened down, although he continued to record for Ace in New Orleans and King in Cincinnati and made worthy recordings for both labels, including some nice duets with his good friend, Amos Milburn. Over the past twenty-five years Charles has had the occasional LP released on labels like Mainstream, Bluesway, Jewel and Blues Spectrum, while two of his finest in recent years include a live LP on Stockholm and the above-mentioned Blues Side/Demon/Alligator set. This fine collection of the man's classic Aladdin sides is, as far as I'm aware, his first CD issue and deserves a similar reception — it is the Charles Brown collection.
Charles believes he cut over 200 sides for Aladdin. "Maurice King, who used to work in Detroit at the Flame and worked with Berry Gordy at Motown Records, he was one of the arrangers, well he wrote a bunch of tunes for me that I did on that label that were never released. Beautiful numbers. Aladdin had a fire before they sold out to United Artists and it burned up a lot of those masters. That's why a lot of those tunes they don't have no more." Amos Milburn, Floyd Dixon, Johnny Watson, Ray Charles and countless others all owed a great debt to the innovative style of Charles Brown, so we should be grateful that many of these peerless performances were not lost in the blaze. Unblinker your attitudes, broaden your horizons, and drift off in the coolest of the cool blues.
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Article properties: Charles Brown: Hard Times & Cool Blues (CD)
|Brown, Charles - Hard Times & Cool Blues (CD) CD 1|
|01||Driftin' Blues||Charles Brown|| |
|02||Honeysipper||Charles Brown|| |
|03||Let's Walk||Charles Brown|| |
|04||Seven Long Days||Charles Brown|| |
|05||I'll Always Be In Love With You||Charles Brown|| |
|06||Black Night||Charles Brown|| |
|07||Fool's Paradise||Charles Brown|| |
|08||Again||Charles Brown|| |
|09||My Baby's Gone||Charles Brown|| |
|10||Don't Fool With My Heart||Charles Brown|| |
|11||Still Water||Charles Brown|| |
|12||Hard Times||Charles Brown|| |
|13||Love Is A Gamble (Unissued)||Charles Brown|| |
|14||Homesick Blues||Charles Brown|| |
|15||How High The Moon||Charles Brown|| |
|16||Baby Do You Know The Game||Charles Brown|| |
|17||It's Nothing||Charles Brown|| |
|18||Trouble Blues||Charles Brown|| |
|19||Merry Christmas Baby||Charles Brown|| |
|20||Trees Trees||Charles Brown|| |
|21||Evening Shadows||Charles Brown|| |
|22||Cryin & Driftin' Blues||Charles Brown|| |
|23||Hot Lips And Seven Kisses||Charles Brown|| |
|24||A Long Time||Charles Brown|| |
|25||Goodnight My Love (Unissued)||Charles Brown|| |
Charles Brown and His Band
After tearing up the postwar R&B charts with their mellow, cosmopolitan brand of West Coast club blues, pianist and front man Charles Brown came to a parting of the ways with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers (Moore's brother, the equally dazzling guitarist Oscar Moore, joined the act in 1947). The Blazers' personal hit parade for the Exclusive label included Sunny Road, New Orleans Blues, and the immortal Yuletide perennial Merry Christmas Baby, but they broke up nonetheless.
"Johnny Moore got so greedy. They took a lot of money that was supposed to divide and brought home, but he left us out of the picture, Eddie Williams and I, who was the bass player. So it became a problem, not getting along, and I decided to quit," said Brown. "I left them in '48 and organized my own group, called Charles Brown & The Smarties. I went back to Aladdin Records."
The hits came immediately for Brown at Aladdin: Get Yourself Another Fool and the R&B chart-topping Trouble Blues in 1949 and the mournful Black Night, cut December 21, 1950 at Radio Recorders in L.A. with Jesse Ervin's guitar work solidly in the Moore tradition, were among the biggest. Penned by L.A. female songsmith Jessie Mae Robinson, Black Night paced the R&B hit parade for 14 weeks in 1951. "Everything I was doing was a big hit with them," said Charles of his Aladdin hookup. But the good times didn't last. Brown took his final bow on the R&B charts for almost a decade the next year (a holiday offering, Please Come Home For Christmas, brought him back briefly in 1960), and a 1958 dispute with his booking agency laid him low for years as a live act.
"I became a scab musician," he explained. "I couldn't work in no place unless I paid the union. Well, I couldn't work because I didn't have nobody booking me. So I went into seclusion. That's how I came off the scene." The drought ended during the '80s, when Europe began to beckon. Then in 1990, Bonnie Raitt booked Charles as her opening act. "That really started the ball rolling for me," he said.
Brown died January 21, 1999 after a full decade back in the spotlight. "I did do something that I thought was part of me, and that the people recognize," Brown said. "I can go to my grave thinking that I did do something that got recognition."
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